Melissa Santos: From 'Lucha Underground' Ring Announcer To 'New Celebrity Apprentice' Boardroom Secretary
Prior to her appearance on The New Celebrity Apprentice, Melissa Santos had taken the role of ring announcer on Lucha Underground and made it her own.
Her unique style of introducing the stars of the El Rey Network spectacle to the ring for battle resonates with fans in The Temple and with viewers at home.
The California beauty grew up watching pro wrestling on television with three brothers. As a budding actress, she started her journey in Los Angeles working for WOW! (Women of Wrestling). That experience got her feet wet in the business, where she learned how to take a bump or two. This project gave way to another, as ring announcer for Lucha Underground. Pro wrestling has as long and colorful history of ring announcers, and we asked Santos who her inspirations may have been for her gig.
“I can’t really say I specifically looked at a particular ring announcer to study,” she says. “I did do my research. I looked at Howard Finkel and Lilian Garcia, who is beloved in WWE and has such a long career there. I watched the way they worked. I looked at them and thought, 'This is the way it’s supposed to be as far as diction goes. However, I wanted to do it my own way.’
"It wasn’t a purposeful thing. I just allowed myself to do what felt right for me. I made sure there was an excitement I was going to create for the audience. I wanted to make it unique for each announcement. If I announced Mil Muertes, it was going to be the same signature announcement every single time for him. I’m not going to announce him like I would Mascarita Sagrada. I wanted to make sure people got excited for them because it’s not about me. I can’t go into business for myself out there. I wanted to do it my way, and that is working. Most people really like it.”
Santos felt welcomed by fans almost immediately.
“I’m just honest, and do my ring announcing, and love it,” she says. “I think that helps. They can see that. I feel people will fall in love with anything genuine, or at least have a certain respect for it, whether they like it or not. When I’m up there, I try to do everything honestly.”
Her work caught the eyes of others within the industry, including WWE. The company reached out to her agent at one point. Despite rumors to the contrary, Santos contends that it wasn’t for a role with Alberto Del Rio.
“It was something completely different,” Santos said. “It was not something I wanted to do. I like what I’m doing at Lucha Underground, and whatever they were offering me wasn’t anything I would enjoy like I do at Lucha Underground. Also, I’m an actress, so contracts are a little bit tight there. They can be a bit controlling. I want to do movies. I want to do other things and branch out. Lucha Underground allows me to do that. I’m happy where I’m at.”
Santos is also excited at going beyond ring announcer and becoming involved in a storyline. The midseason finale left viewers wondering where Marty “The Moth” Martinez’s perverse infatuation with her is going.
“I can’t wait to continue the storyline that you guys see evolving,” says Santos. “That is what is beautiful about Lucha Underground and what sets it apart from any product out there. It’s constantly surprising you with all these twists and turns that keep people interested in the product. Ring announcer jobs are really important, but people aren’t usually there to see the ring announcer. They are there to see the wrestlers. Now the show has given me this place and allowed me to build a foundation with the fans. They are probably the reason I’m in a storyline right now, because they follow me. It’s because of them that maybe the producers and writers thought, ‘Why not give her a storyline?’ I don’t think that would have happened in any other promotion.”
A broader audience is now seeing Santos outside of pro wrestling thanks to her landing the job of boardroom secretary on The New Celebrity Apprentice on NBC. Eric Van Wagenen, executive producer of Lucha Underground, just happens to also work on the popular reality competition series. Santos is grateful to him for going to bat for her.
— Eric Van Wagenen (@EricVanWagenen) December 27, 2016
“It wasn’t something that came about easily, because the people at Celebrity Apprentice didn’t believe I could maybe tone it down,” Santos says. “They saw that I could be a bit over-the-top on Lucha Underground, and my dresses were a little bit sexier there. They thought I couldn’t tone it down for Celebrity Apprentice. I sat in one of their pre-tapings, and it worked out.”
She had met the show's new host Arnold Schwarzenegger a couple of times before and got to interact with him. This helped put her at ease a bit, but it didn’t make it less surreal for Santos to be working with the iconic figure.
“I’m not going to lie,” Santos said, “I definitely turned into a 10-year-old inside. It’s Arnold, the governor, and everyone loves and idolizes him. I would have to just hear his voice for the first time and be taken aback. He is amazing. He is one of the most hard-working people I’ve come across in the industry.”
On Celebrity Apprentice Santos sits there waiting for instructions to bring the cast members who are up for termination back into the boardroom. We wondered what exactly it was she is looking at on that computer screen.
“I’m watching Lucha Underground episodes, of course,” she says. “Why not? I really was. The wifi would go out, but I would at least watch the recaps. [Celebrity Apprentice contestant] Chael Sonnen is this big time fighter who knows some of the wrestlers. We spoke briefly. He is a fan. I know Ms. Laila Ali was a fan. She thought I was a better secretary than the last one. She was wonderful—not so much because of the wrestling, but we got to bond mostly in the makeup room.
“I could talk forever about the men and women who were some pretty brilliant people. I enjoyed working with them. It’s so sad to watch them at times in the boardroom situation. I was so emotionally involved, but I couldn’t say anything. I wanted to pat them on the back and feel for them. I had my favorites. I don’t want to say for spoiler reasons, but I had my favorites at different moments. It was pretty emotional.”
Aside from her busy TV schedule, Santos continues to explore her creative side by writing and working on unique productions. Next up for her is shooting a Power Rangers spoof in which she will portray the Pink Ranger.
“I think fans will really like it,” she said. “They want to see me kick butt and show a different side of myself.”
The New Celebrity Apprentice, Mondays, 8/7c, NBC
Lucha Underground, Wednesdays, 8/7c, El Rey Network